Paid popularity

Inspired by the success of blogging journalist and former staffer Om Malik, Business 2.0 is paying staffers to blog, rewarding them on the basis of traffic. My newfound friend Dan Shanoff objects at HuffingtonPost, arguing, with merit, that this may cause writers to — I’ll put this less delicately than he did — whore themselves for clicks.

But I think it is a good idea. The truth is that we are all, in any medium, influenced by our traffic. We write stories to get them onto Page One. When I wrote covers at People, I hung on the sales reports. I have long argued that on newspapers and magazines, circulation directors should report to editors, for the editor is supposed to be in charge of the relationship with the reader. And as as blogger, I used to check traffic more than daily and light candles in hope of the occasional Instalanche (since shifting my focus to media and away from hot buttons of politics, I’ve gone cold turkey on the stats). And Business 2.0’s move is not unprecedented; both Nick Denton (a friend) at Gawker Media and (a client)

Is there danger in this? Of course. One can be corrupted by the siren call of popularity and, worse, money. But if one corrupts one’s product and credibility along the way, then you can bet that the audience will see through the manipulation, become disenchanted, and leave. That is true of newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and blogs. And in the case of the Business 2.0 bloggers, they can also lose their jobs.

As more of us become independent, and as we need to support our efforts with traffic and advertising, the more we will have to work diligently to protect our own credibility, our own brands, and cope with the issues of church and state ourselves: my left side is church, the right is state. [Hat tip to Andrew Tyndall for making me write this, in the comments here.]

: LATER: Here’s Erick Shonfeld of Business 2.0 blogging about the blogging about their blogging.

: JUST TO BE CLEAR: A few blogs linking to this seem to think that I was endorsing pay-per-post blogging and I most certainly am not. Depends on who’s paying and what the deal is. Business 2.0 is paying its writers to write just as they do in print. That is quite different from advertisers paying bloggers to blog in their own editorial space, which I think is dead wrong. And that, in turn, is different from advertisers paying for space on a blogger’s blog, clearly labeled, which is absolutely fine. And whether the ads on a blog are sold by your boss or yourself or your network or Google, it’s still vital that you separate yourself from those interests or you will lose your credibility with your public. Once again: The reader must never be confused about the source of content. If it is bought and paid for, then you must say so.